Africa has the highest rate of births in the world and many have already been raising concerns over population vs resources ratio, something they feel is against the continent if it keeps up with its current birth rate.
For many economists, this birth rate is already making the country poor and thus creating a need for family planning strategies by African governments. It was, therefore, no surprise that uproar met Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s proclamation to interfere with contraception use in his country.
“You have cattle. You are big farmers. You can feed your children. Why then resort to birth control? This is my opinion, I see no reason to control births in Tanzania. I have travelled to Europe and elsewhere and have seen the harmful effects of birth control. Some countries are now facing declining population growth. They are short of manpower.
“It is important to reproduce. Women can now give up contraceptive methods,” Magufuli said in a speech on Sunday, according to The Citizen daily newspaper.
This proclamation became a talking point for many across Africa, with some fully supporting Magufuli and others complaining about how overpopulation will spread resources in Tanzania and other African countries thin.
But many people forgot to discuss the importance of the women’s reproductive and sexual health, especially when it comes to birth control.
For starters, birth control is not restricted to spacing births. It is also used for managing periods and everything related to it. According to reports, painful periods, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and lack of periods can be managed by birth control.
The withdrawal of access to birth control would make it harder for women to handle these conditions and thus affect their health and welfare.
The main reason many African women use birth control is to plan their families so that they can avoid the physical and mental toll that pregnancy takes on them. Women who are not ready to have a child or do not want a child at all also use contraception to avoid pregnancy.
Statistics still indicate that Africa has some of the lowest use of birth control and for many reasons, including cultural and religious. For others, using contraception would encourage promiscuity and thus eroding the society’s fabric- an argument that has been proved wrong since our ancestors had been using birth control way before modernisation.
Statistics further show that factors such as poor quality of services and limited options available, making women even more vulnerable. Already governments are putting women at a disadvantage by denying them the chance to choose their own methods of birth control, and thus any ban or restrictions will make things even worse for those currently enjoying access.
Most African countries, including Tanzania, have ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which spells out the rights and freedoms of women across the continent.
To go the ahead to make a presidential opinion a matter of policy to the extent of banning advertisements of family planning on the radio and television is then a gross violation of the rights already entrenched in the country’s laws.
Amnesty International has even called out Tanzania to stop such violation and to allow Tanzanians to make decisions about their own bodies.
“There’s no doubt that sexual and reproductive rights are coming under increasing attack in Tanzania. The government’s deplorable decision to pull these family planning ads comes less than two weeks after the President made derogatory remarks about Tanzanians wishing to exercise their fundamental right to make decisions about their bodies,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, Seif Magango said.
It is time to look beyond the narrative of resources and population and look into the health and well being of African women and girls. Besides, with a relatively younger population in Africa, the births are still going to happen and Africa’s population will still rise. A focus on the reproductive and sexual health of an African woman will go a long way to ensure they are able t0 make vital and informed decisions about contraception instead of being denied this chance by their leaders.